Not only does Hunter Miska look sharp between the pipes thanks to his equipment, but the Penticton Vees goalie backs it up with big numbers.
Miska was named the BCHL’s player of the month for October prior to Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters.
“I’m pretty excited. I thought our team played really well,” said Miska, a University of Minnesota-Duluth commit, who was a perfect 9-0-0 with a miniscule 1.08 goals-against average and a .959 save-percentage with three shutouts last month. “My defence are obviously playing great in front of me blocking shots, giving me the first shot. Forwards are doing great too.”
Miska’s efforts Saturday pushed the Vees’ win streak to 13 and helped them become the No.1 ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
The turning point of the evening came with the Vees leading 3-1. A turnover at the Vees blueline gave the Smoke Eaters’ top scorer Charlie Zuccarini a breakaway, but Miska stoned him. The Vees then rushed the puck up ice immediately as Patrick Sexton led the breakout to Patrick Newell, who found Demico Hannoun. Not long after Hannoun beat Adam Todd with a backhand shot making it 4-1.
“Those are the type of momentum swings that carry you through to a lot of victories,” said Vees coach Fred Harbinson. “We have seen that game in and game out with him.”
Harbinson said they are glad to have Miska back and it’s for moments like that. Harbinson said the team also played well away from the puck, but when mistakes were made, Miska was there to rescue them.
“He made critical key saves probably in every game,” said Harbinson. “We played in a lot of one-goal games. He was definitely in the zone.”
Vees forward Cam Amantea added that Miska has been awesome.
“The way he has been playing lately is crazy,” he said. “He has kept us in a few games. Miska gives us a chance to win every night.”
The difference Amantea sees in the goalie from last year is confidence. It has been seen in the dressing room and practice.
“He always works his hardest. He always does the little things to get ready for games,” said Amantea.
Miska, named a finalist for the CJHL national player of the month award to be announced this week, also brings a positive attitude that is respected by Vees co-captain Cody DePourcq.
“He’s a pretty cool guy off the ice. The way he thinks the game,” said DePourcq. “In practice … the goalie coach (Kyle Hamaguchi) asks him, ‘How many goals did you let in that drill?’ He goes ‘none’ every time. He just has a very unique mindset. A confident guy. I love the way he approaches the game. Always having fun.”
Miska said he has felt more confident and that his play has been stronger. That is due to the work he did last off-season. Miska only took a week off then was back on the ice skating twice a week and focused on aspects of his skill, such as acrobatics. Miska, who started playing goal in Grade 9, said he doesn’t like to take much time off.
“I look at the summer as a time to get better, increase my game,” said Miska, who draws inspiration from Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding. “I thought it’s really helped me this year.”
The CJHL released its three stars for October and Miska was named the first star. Second star went to Ryan Kuffner of the Gloucester Rangers in the Canadian Central Hockey League after scoring 11 goals with 23 points in 11 games and third star to Chris Rauckman of the Flin Flon Bombers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Rauckman scored 14 goals and 21 points in 15 games.
On Wednesday, Miska and the Vees aim to look sharp against the West Kelowna Warriors (9-5-0-2), who are winners of their last three games including a 4-3 overtime victory against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks at Royal LePage Place.
“They are a good team. They have been coming on strong lately,” said Amantea, who is probable for Wednesday after leaving Saturday’s game for precautionary reasons after hurting his back when he crashed into the end boards. “They are tough to play against. One of our biggest rivals.”
“It will be a huge challenge this Wednesday against one of the better teams in the entire league,” said Harbinson.
Vees notes: Co-captain Patrick Sexton returned to the lineup after missing 12 games with an upper body injury. “It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s tough sitting out and watching the team play. Luckily for me the boys went on a 12-game hitter. That was awesome. It’s awesome to be back. Just being in the room, being with the guys” … Dante Fabbro and Tyson Jost, the Vees two 16-year-old rookies, are off playing for Team Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia, Ont. Jost scored Team Canada White’s only goal in a 5-1 loss to Finland on Sunday, while Fabbro scored on the power-play as Team Canada Red rolled over Slovakia 6-0. Jost assisted on the overtime winner against Canada Black in a 5-4 decision. Canada Red earned a 4-2 win over Sweden. Both teams play again Tuesday. Quarter-final action starts on Thursday.
Alumni Update: Mario Lucia (Notre Dame) (Vees 2011-2012) is fifth in scoring in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men’s hockey. The junior has eight goals and 10 points in 10 games for the Fighting Irish. Lucia was named by Hockey East as the Warrior Hockey player of the month. He scored seven goals and added two assists in seven games. Lucia is second in the nation in goal-scoring and Minnesota State Junior Bryce Gervais (Vees 2011-2012) is third with seven goals. Mike Reilly (Minnesota) (Vees 2011-2012) is tied for second in scoring among defensemen with eight points in six games. The NCAA Rankings came out Monday and the top two teams in college hockey feature seven Vees alumni. Minnesota (Connor, Mike and Ryan Reilly) remains number one and is closely followed by North Dakota (Mark MacMillan, Wade Murphy, Brendan O’Donnell and Troy Stecher).